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NFL Draft

Can Falcons Still Draft QB After Restructuring Matt Ryan?

  • The Draft Network
  • March 17, 2021
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The Atlanta Falcons made a big splash during the tampering period of 2021 free agency, but they did so, not by adding a player and agreeing to a signing, but rather by restructuring the contract of quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan has three years left on what was originally a five-year, $150 million contract. Prior to the restructure, Ryan was set to have a cap hit of $40.9 million during the 2021 season. However, the restructuring of his deal now means Ryan will only count $26.9 million against the cap for 2021. What the two sides did was convert $21 million of Ryan’s $23 million base salary into a signing bonus, which can now be prorated and spread out evenly across the next three seasons, as opposed to just paying it to Ryan all in one year like you do when it’s a base salary. All that left just $7 million of the bonus to go on this year’s cap for Ryan, bringing his total number to $26.9 million.

Sounds great, right? Well, yes, but eventually the bill does need to be paid.

Prior to the restructure, Ryan’s cap hit for the 2022 season was set to be $41.6 million. After the restructure, it’s now scheduled to be $48.6 million. His cap hit for 2023 also increased by $7 million to now be $43.6 million.

So why would the Falcons do this? 

Well, first and foremost it gives them some extra cap space. The Falcons still needed to get under the cap of $182.5 million, and this restructuring does that. It also gives them some wiggle room to sign their future draft picks, as well as move some more money around to pick up some lower-priced new players, if they want to get creative.

On the other side of that coin, this now makes it somewhat more difficult for the Falcons to move on from Ryan, if that’s something they wanted to do, as he is now 36 years old. Cutting Ryan now would leave $65 million in dead cap space, forcing the Falcons to objectively lose $38 million in total cap for 2021. If they wanted to cut him after next season, Ryan’s dead cap hit would be $40.5 million, which is still a lot, but since his cap count for 2022 is now $48.6 million, they’re still saving $8 million, though it’s a lot of dead cap to do so. On another avenue, if the Falcons were to trade Ryan after June 1 of this year, they can spread that dead cap out over the next three seasons, meaning that they would take on a dead cap hit of $24.9 million in both 2021 and 2022, then $15.9 million in dead cap in 2023.

What does all of that mean? Well, it probably means that the Falcons now aren’t moving on from Ryan over the next two years, and that also means they’re probably not going to take a quarterback at No. 4.

I never want to say never, because you really do never know when it comes to the NFL draft, but the intriguing mock drafts that had the Falcons jumping on Justin Fields or Trey Lance at No. 4 to get their quarterback of the future are likely now just pipe dreams rather than realistic draft strategies.

You could still understand the notion of taking a quarterback. The Falcons have a pretty good roster and hope they’re never picking this high again. With a great quarterback class in front of them, there are far worse things they can do than grab one here and let him sit and learn even for two years. However, there just aren’t many realities in which that’s the right thing to do.

The best part about drafting a young franchise quarterback is that you hope after their second season they are well established as a winning quarterback in the NFL and you have up to three more seasons with them playing at a high level on a rookie deal. You take away that allurement when you put into motion a plan where a quarterback isn’t even getting his first snaps until year three. Even for Lance, who will be one of the youngest prospects in the draft pool and who could benefit from not starting right away, after this Ryan contract, the best-case scenario is you never even play him until the 2023 season. At that point, you’ll have to make a decision on his fifth-year option after just his first year as a starter. Could all of that still work out? Sure, but you’re stacking the odds of good timing against you.

Instead, what I believe is now the more likely path for the Falcons is a trade-down scenario. Atlanta was a prime candidate to trade down before the Ryan restructure, and now I think it is their best bet. This quarterback class is too good at the top and there are too many desperate teams out there who need one for the Falcons to stretch the draft class elsewhere to try to fit a need. Atlanta has needs at edge rusher, in the secondary, and at running back; you can easily get the player you want from those positions while not picking at No. 4.

On another note, new general manager Terry Fontenot comes from the New Orleans Saints school of drafting. That is often all about getting aggressive, trading up and going to get your guy(s). A massive trade back from No. 4, say to No. 12 with the San Francisco 49rs or No. 15 with the New England Patriots Patriots, heck, even No. 19 or 20 to Washington or Chicago, could command multiple day-one and day-two picks over the next three years. That would then set up Fontenot to be able to navigate the draft to his liking over the next 3-5 years.

Ryan’s contract means the Falcons probably aren’t selecting a quarterback in the top five. But what it does mean is this team has a chance to really turbocharge their rebuild with a big-time trade back, knowing they have a competitive quarterback who they don’t have to move on from just yet.

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